Pinyin English

Decorative Designs in Chinese Art 中国文物的纹饰

Fire Design 火纹
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Xia Dynasty to Zhou Dynasty

Jade funerary masks 幎目缀玉 were relatively common for early Chinese rulers. People of the time believed that jade had special powers that protected the body. Some rulers even had entire jade burial suits 玉衣. The picture below shows a jade funerary mask from the Late Western Zhou.

Jade ornaments for a funerary mask
西周晚期公元前9世纪771上海博物馆
Jade ornaments for a funerary mask
Late Western Zhou (Late 9th century —771 BCE), Shanghai Museum

Later, the designs on jade artifacts were similar to designs on other artifacts but usually smaller in size and more refined. The dragon and phoenix design on the ornament below from the Spring and Autumn Period resembles bronze ware from the same period.

an ornament
春秋晚期公元前6世纪上半叶477上海博物馆
Ornament with dragon and phoenix
Late Spring and Autumn (Late 6th century —477 BCE), Shanghai Museum

In ancient times bi (a jade disc) had a very high value. There is a story about a very valuable bi in the Warring States Period described in the book Records of the Historian by Sima Qian 司马迁史记, written circa 100 BCE. The King of Qin offered the King of Zhao 15 cities in exchange for the bi. The King of Qin intended to cheat the King of Zhao but a Zhao official Lin Xiangru outsmarted the King of Qin. The bi shown below is from the Warring States Period.

a jade ceremonial disk
战国公元前475〜221上海博物馆
Bi (jade disc) with a grain pattern
Warring States Period (475—221 BCE), Shanghai Museum

A peck is an old measure of grain and has a number of symbolic meanings, one of them being justice. The grain design in the jade ornaments below may related to that.

dragon
战国公元前475〜221上海博物馆
Dragon
Warring States Period (475—221 BCE), Shanghai Museum

A huang is an arc-shaped jade pendant. The huang below from the Warring States Period has a grain pattern.

an arc-shaped jade ornament
战国公元前475〜221上海博物馆
Huang (arc-shaped jade pendant) with grain design
Warring States Period (475—221 BCE), Shanghai Museum

The frog in the jade artifact below is an interesting choice for a belt buckle. Frogs are not common in Chinese symbolism.

Belt buckle with animal mask and frog design
战国公元前475〜221上海博物馆
Belt buckle with animal mask and frog design
Warring States Period (475—221 BCE), Shanghai Museum
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